For reasons I do not fully understand, I sat down and watched The Secret Life of the American Teenager last night. Maybe it has something to do with the amazing draw of HDTV that I simply have to watch everything available; maybe I have a sickness, maybe my wife decided that she just had to see it. Almost needless to say, I have formulated an opinion or two about the show, and they're none too good.
First off, I'm convinced that the word "American" is used in the title to denote the fact that ABC Family hasn't simply bought old episodes of Degrassi: The Next Generation or even the original Degrassi Junior High (which are, of course, Canadian). Watching the show it certainly felt like I stepped right into the world of Degrassi, which we used to watch in school during recess if it was raining outside. It seems as though school, or the television industry's view of it, has changed very little from then to now. And, I tend to think that's the case. Teen pregnancy, while upsetting, is not new. And, for all the hoopla surrounding ABC Family airing a show about it, everything that occurred last night was rather mundane.
Though there was speculation that ABC Family was eschewing its family-based roots with the show, they most certainly did not. Not only did a little advisory precede the show, at the end of it parents and teens were encouraged to talk and learn more about the issues involved.
Some quarters of our society almost certainly feel that such a show should never air on a network denoted as a "family" one. That's a ridiculous notion. Not discussing teen pregnancy does not make the problem go away. If you stick your head in the sand, not only will your problems still be there, but you may have messed up a pretty good hairdo as well.
The ultimate question to ask is if the show glorified teen pregnancy. It did not. Amy, the main character, certainly did not wish to become pregnant and is absolutely worried about the ramifications. She is left with a terribly hard set of choices to make and floundering for help. It seems like a pretty accurate portrayal to me.
Of course, some misinformation was given about the way doctors and insurance deal with pregnancy, but it came from the mouths of Amy's friends, who are also teens. Whether the information was meant to be inaccurate as the teens were simply unaware of the facts or was simply mis-researched was unclear. Amy and her friends were worried about her parents finding out about her pregnancy from her insurance or via her pediatrician, but both her insurance and doctor are legally bound to not report the reason for her visit. The effects of such misinformation, whether intended or not, could be used as ammunition against the show as teens may take what they hear on American Teenager as gospel.
Either way though, frankly, I found the show a little silly. All the teens were so over-the-top and stereotypical that it really dumbed down the show. Maybe that will get better in the coming weeks — good characters take time to develop — but from what we saw last night I'm not sure that anyone except perhaps Amy will truly be drawn in three dimensions.
If you want to know whether you should watch it with your children and have a frank discussion… that's one you're going to have to sort out for yourself.